Five years have passed since the foundation of National History Bee and Bowl in the spring of 2010. In that half-decade, a lot of aspects of the academic quizbowl community have grown, changed, or utterly transformed. Five years is longer than the average student's high school quizbowl career -- the last class of students to play high school quizbowl without the opportunity to do NHBB (which includes me) has for the most part been out of college for a year. By contrast, the opportunity to do History Bowl is no longer an interesting new thing for people currently in high school, but rather an established normal part of the world. In a game where the turnover rate is so high and historical memory runs so short, five years is a whole era.
And five years is a pretty good benchmark for assessing how the project has been going and where it ought to go. As a relative outsider to the NHBB organization, I can only do this honestly from the perspective I actually have: that of a dedicated member of the quizbowl community. As such, I'm going to focus this post not on what NHBB should do tout court, but specifically on the relationship between NHBB and the quizbowl community, which is where it most impacts most of this board's readership.
This post has been a long time coming. It might have been wise to make a post at this benchmark even if the past year of NHBB had gone swimmingly without a community-derailing incident. But my main motivator is the simple fact that the long-term status of NHBB is currently too tied-in with the rest of the quizbowl ecosystem to be ignored in any attempt at resetting the community on a good footing.
Toward this end, I got dinner with Dave Madden several weeks ago in mid-May, and we talked for about four hours about the current state of NHBB, where it ought to go from here, and what its relationship to the broader community ought to be. Most of what I post here comes from what I've already relayed to the National History Bee and Bowl organization.
The Implicit Quizbowl-NHBB Compact: Origins
As I see matters, we (the various involved people of the quizbowl community) struck a sort of "implicit compact" with NHBB at the very beginning, with the assumption that each side would do some things for the other, under the expectation that benefits would flow to both sides as time went on. Now the terms of that "compact" are starting to be tested or strained. Given that the implicit compact wasn't an actual document that anybody signed, though, it seems fair to take this opportunity to make sure we actually have a meeting of the minds, renegotiate it, and get set on a healthier footing.
As far as I can recall, the idea of a History Bowl competition first came on the radar of denizens of these forums in this thread from September 2010. (The inaugural event at Ridgewood had been held the preceding spring.) And of course, in good-quizbowl terms, it looked utterly risible. An event with question quality from 1999, led by a man whose only ties into the community since that time were a stint moderating for Chip Beall? It sure looked like it'd be an unmitigated disaster. But: A few people (aside from Madden himself) saw the seed of something which could be much better and more beneficial. The feedback from Chris Ray (and to a lesser and less constructive extent, Charlie Dees) in that thread started planting the first seeds for the NHBB we have today. It took a little push and shove, but within that thread alone, and certainly by the time of the inaugural High School Championships in April 2011, NHBB was well on its way to a full disaffiliation with Questions Unlimited and had contracted HSAPQ to write the inaugural Bowl set (while producing the Bee and the regional sets in-house).
I don't think anyone wanted NHBB to fail, at the outset. (Certainly I didn't, at least once I caught on to its potential.) But many people were worried, to be sure. Many of us were aware of Science Bowl, which will ALWAYS be written on terrible one-liners, have multiple choice, etc. since nobody with a better idea of how to do things will ever get through to the Department of Energy bureaucracy or whoever runs it. The prospect of another single-subject event of poor quality draining resources and energy from the work we'd been doing -- which was at that point far less secure and more precarious in many regions -- could have been a nightmare. That said, the baby NHBB also presented tremendous opportunity if it worked out -- if we could manage a "symbiosis" with it on acceptable questions, it had promise to be an utter game-changer for outreach, funding, and the like for the all-subject quizbowl world.
So many prominent people took the gamble and threw their support behind NHBB to make it good. As I saw things, the rough terms of "implicit compact" by which that occurred looked something like this:
- The quizbowl community would help NHBB by ensuring that its questions met modern quality standards (read: would write NHBB's questions insofar as NHBB let it do so).
- Following from the above, the quizbowl community would help NHBB by drumming up support from existing quizbowl teams and coaches from the very outset.
- NHBB would have to officially disaffiliate from Chip Beall and Questions Unlimited.
- NHBB would help the quizbowl community by doing intense outreach to bring many new teams into its events in existing and new circuits alike.
- NHBB would explicitly encourage the new teams it brings in to take part in all-subject quizbowl as well.
As should come as a surprise to nobody who's been following along, the follow-through in both directions on that compact has been ... checkered at best. We're currently testing whether that arrangement, or any [arrangement] so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. So, point-by-point, let me go through how things seem to have gone:
>The quizbowl community would help NHBB by ensuring that its questions met modern quality standards (read: would write NHBB's questions insofar as NHBB let it do so).
I think the largest hiccup in this process is obvious to all, or else I wouldn't be writing this. Nonetheless, I think there's more to discuss here than the already widely-discredited single-person-does-it-all approach.
Writing the full slate of NHBB competitions has been a far more massive a task than anybody reading these boards could have anticipated in 2010, and it seems only to grow with time. NHBB dedicated itself to producing not one, not two, but thuh-ree different regional sets, with both a Bee component and a four-quarter (and thus less familiar to most existing good-QB writers) Bowl component. Then atop those and the massive Nationals set -- which all have to be answerable by high school players, mind you -- the ill-fated College History Bowl was first tried in 2012, the Geo Olympiad component and the first original Sports & Entertainment Bee were added in 2013, the U.S. History Bee in 2014, and now we have the International History Olympiad (with many specialized quizbowl components) in 2015. At some point along the way small pockets of customized international questions were also thrown into the mix for uses of the regional sets abroad, and the Elementary/Middle School Division was spun off into its own competition with its own Bowl, Bee, and Olympiad stuff. This is a huge, huge, HUGE amount of new content, and it built up incredibly quickly. And there's no sign of slowing -- I've confirmed with Madden that they have no plans to cut any events for the 2015-16 year (though this slate, and the HS Nationals weekend, seem pretty seriously maxed out with little prospect of addition).
To be quite frank, this makes many people worried that NHBB's reach has exceeded its grasp. Every time a group or person manages to figure out how to write one component, a bunch more gets added and makes existing arrangements far less tenable. And this is frustrating, both to people who seek/sought to help write these events and to people who hope to try and schedule them all in against the existing calendars in their regions. The HSAPQ arrangement only held firm for 3.5 years before that group decided it couldn't renew the contract. (Disclaimer: I was a full member of HSAPQ during the 2012-2013 competition season and was a freelance writer in the surrounding time between May 2011 and May 2015. My opinions here are only my own.) I can't speak for HSAPQ's leadership at that time, but I can say that it felt to me as a member and observer that NHBB commitments were rapidly draining the group of energy which it could be using on other projects, and crowding out ability to focus on much of anything else.
I think it's now fair to say that this behemoth amount of questions is not what anybody back in 2010 initially thought they were signing up for, and has left many people worried that NHBB is teetering on the brink of being utterly unmanageable. Certainly, it'll be quite difficult to expect that a community which is already writing dozens of its own sets will be able to put forward concerted efforts to tackle this whole other set of things forevermore.
>The quizbowl community would help NHBB by drumming up support from existing quizbowl teams and coaches from the very outset.
I think we made good on this. Because the questions were guaranteed to be good, a lot of mainstream-quizbowl powerhouses (including all four of the first four High School Bowl champions) have added on History Bowl teams that draw from or overlap seriously with their quizbowl teams. The first NHBB, perhaps fittingly, ended with a showdown between defending HSNCT champions Maggie Walker and long-time NAC team Parkersburg, with Maggie Walker prevailing. And many coaches, such as Jason Flowers of LASA and Steve Frappier of Ransom Everglades, have really taken to NHBB as a project they want to support, serving as regional directors, site captains, and the like beyond merely taking their teams to events. In many regions, this gives NHBB a larger support network than the central organization itself could uphold on its own. And it means that those teams could hit the ground running in their own regions talking up quizbowl to NHBB teams and NHBB to quizbowl teams. This is perhaps the area where the attempted symbiosis has worked most well.
But as time goes on, many community leaders are starting to have misgivings. In part due to the frustrations discussed below, and in part due to the large burden that NHBB scheduling puts on many local circuits, there are many areas of the country that haven't signed on very fully. Select community leaders, such as Sean Phillips, have sworn off doing anything for or with NHBB in their regions, resulting in NHBB engagement which is often patchy, skipping over many of the most prominent quizbowl powerhouses (such as 2011-14 Ladue).
> NHBB would have to officially disaffiliate from Chip Beall and Questions Unlimited.
This one happened full-stop around the time the first NHBB was held, and I'm glad for it. Thankfully, Questions Unlimited has only deteriorated further since 2010, with even more high-profile defection stories (e.g. High Tech). NHBB rightly made the calculation that having any ties to a business with such a poor ethics record as QU would have shot its efforts at reaching the bulk of serious ready-made teams in the foot. Perhaps even more thankfully, NHBB has allowed many local schools to transition their efforts away from Question Unlimited. Many ex-Chip players have made their way to NHBB and done productive good work, allowing them to make up for their past affiliations (e.g. Maggie Larkin, Will Mantell).
> NHBB would ...do intense outreach to bring many new teams into its events in existing and new circuits alike.
I think this has happened somewhat -- and the areas where it has really taken off are something to behold -- but it's more checkered than the optimistic projections many of us have had. From what I can tell, NHBB has really taken the NY/NJ/CT Tri-State Area, the mid-Atlantic, Florida, and Northern California by storm, often bringing out dozens of teams to events in those areas. Most areas where there's a decent amount of quizbowl have a decent amount of NHBB. And there have been forays into areas where quizbowlers haven't set foot yet, such as the Dakotas, Kansas, Guam, and Hawaii. However, I can't help the sinking feeling looking at the website that a huge number of the "new" areas that NHBB has set up tournaments are not successes for anyone, in that they're often events with only 4 to 8 teams, from 1 to 3 schools, in attendance. I earnestly don't think it's a good idea to expect that NHBB will bring about a blossoming of quizbowl tournaments in areas where they don't yet exist, or that the dots on the map in relatively quizbowl-devoid areas represent any major contribution to our outreach and expansion efforts within all-subject quizbowl.
The international stuff [more on that later] seems to have stuck in east Asia and been mostly a dud everywhere else. To be perfectly honest, I think that international expansion is mostly a waste of NHBB's efforts unless it has much more of a guarantee of self-sufficiency in the years to come (without requiring folks like the Maddens to be constantly flying everywhere to prop it up). I don't have access to NHBB or IHBB finances, but I have major doubts that the costs of flights, hotels, school visits, etc. are anywhere near getting recouped, and until there's more likelihood of that happening, it seems to me that a lot of the international efforts are effectively flushing time and money down a drain that could be better spent making sure the events in the United States are actually functional.
It is worth noting that NHBB is only five years old, and is stretched quite thin (across four continents, no less!). It's hard to say that, for example, Kansas won't have an explosion of participants at some point down the line now that the door has been opened a crack.
> NHBB would explicitly encourage the new teams it brings in to take part in all-subject quizbowl as well.
I think again that this is happening in fits and starts, but not nearly as consistently or successfully as the good quizbowl community hoped for. The "NHBB-to-quizbowl pipeline" really isn't as much of a thing as many people expected it to be. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's an utter failure, as some might, as there are certainly high-profile crossovers who used NHBB as a launching pad into all-subject quizbowl success, such as Bethlehem Central and Saratoga, but they're relatively few and far between. Many of the good History Bowl teams that also moved into doing quizbowl seem to be led largely/only by a single star player, such that the team's quizbowl involvement folds when that player moves on. And of course, due to the successful seeding of NHBB with good-at-quizbowl teams from the very beginning, a huge percentage of the best NHBB teams are also the best quizbowl teams. So it's hard nowadays to expect any systematic or large-scale cross-pollination of quizbowl with devoted NHBB teams. In fact, at many schools, the separate establishment of History Bowl and Quizbowl teams, often with separate rosters, coaches, and sets of funding, and occasionally (from what I've heard) with inter-team drama and strife, is detracting from the ability of individual schools to do both events harmoniously.
What's more, NHBB personnel, having much more on their plates than they used to just handling their own competition, are much less likely to do unrelated things for, to, or in the quizbowl community than they were maybe 3 or 4 years ago -- a trend which I expect to continue. There are still some, such as the National Quizbowl Awards. But since about summer 2012 a lot of those efforts really stalled, as the international expansion of NHBB has taken up more and more of Madden's time. And there's relatively little motivation for NHBB to keep doing anything that takes teams' energy and attention away from NHBB itself.
That said, it is very clear to me that NHBB's attitude towards quizbowl is NOT, and hasn't ever been, one of indifference or hostility -- it's one of support and endorsement, insofar as it can give it while still doing its own thing. From what I can tell NHBB does what it can to schedule around the intricacies of local circuits and convey the news that "if you want more practice for History Bowl, there are a million all-subject tournaments a year," and I see that willingness to coordinate (which again, Science Bowl and other buzzer-based competitions would NEVER EVER do) as an earnest expression of their sincerity on this front.
For whatever it's worth, NHBB also has what one might call "hella money" in a way that the all-subject quizbowl community doesn't (yet). The use of some of those resources in the promotion of all-subject quizbowl, or the payment of people who do good work for both, isn't nothing.
Other frustrations of the quizbowl community towards NHBB
So it seems like, on the whole, the expected arrangement between the quizbowl community and NHBB, in which they agreed to mutually support one another with the expectation of mutual benefit, has been (in the optimistic view) somewhat shaky or perhaps (in the pessimistic view) unraveling at the edges. The original factors which seemed most salient in 2010 are not the only ones which matter in determining the quizbowl community's attitudes toward NHBB, however. Through various conversations, posts here, etc. I have gotten the sense that there are many other ancillary frustrations that community members have with the NHBB organization. It's worth getting those out into the open air now, so as to get a more complete idea of how to get things back on the right foot.
Frustrations with Dave Madden
One need not be on the verge of hurling any Charlie Dees-style invective to sense that many people lack confidence specifically in the leadership style of David Madden, rather than in the idea of an all-history subject tournament itself. These complaints include:
- the almost knee-jerk dismissiveness of criticism on most fronts about most issues. (When public response to criticism often resembles this post, it's easy to draw the conclusion that the snark and dismissiveness run to the core of NHBB's attitude as a whole.
- A sort of "oversharing" demeanor as regards internal NHBB crises and personnel changes -- cf. this thread and this thread, which can often be seen as going beyond "informing the public of what it needs to know" (most other major quizbowl organization has a Communications officer of some sort, whose messages are more "official" in timbre, so it's less easy to conflate the personal rhetorical style of the organization's leader
with the policy announcements than it is with NHBB.)
[*] The fact that he is often unreachable when traveling across many continents -- especially when so much incoming communication about every subject comes into the [email protected] email address -- is often frustrating (especially when it's entirely uncertain what rewards that travel will bring). As the Regional Coordinators have taken on more of the day-to-day interaction with regional sites this is less of an issue, but (for example) I had to have a 3-hour phone call to set up the parameters of the High School Championships sets this year via a Google Voice call from an unknown number in Thailand twelve time zones way (midnight to 3 AM my time), and that really shouldn't be the way things have to be the next time NHBB has an emergency.
[*] Often-unreasonable expectations of subordinate officers and people working for/with him (e.g. question writers, the "4000 cookies"), with relatively little firm idea of what that work entails and how much effort it takes to accomplish those tasks
[*] Insistence on some level of control over tasks that can (or could, in the near future) be delegated, such as doing final "editing" on sets, getting yelled at for 30 minutes by a parent over a protest resolution, etc. -- uncertainty as to whether that's by necessity (i.e. there aren't enough other people to cover everything) or by choice (i.e. won't be able to let go and let other people do things even 5-10 years from now)
[*] Opining on matters within the non-NHB quizbowl community in sort of strange ways (e.g. the clock thread)
In part because the demands of the organization are quite high, and in part because of other factors, it seems from an outside view like NHBB's choices have resulted in a large crowd of detractors and "refugees" who once did work for it but would never consider doing so again. Aside from the obvious examples of Greg Bossick, HSAPQ, and Matt Weiner, there are many people in the wider community on a smaller level who have negative experiences working with NHBB and choose not to come back. At least from my perspective, it seems like there's something of a "sour grapes" attitude towards people who choose to turn away from or not support NHBB -- that if they're not on board with what NHBB does going forward, they must not be worth it anyway. If this is true, it's a very bad situation for a constantly-expanding organization to be in and a very bad attitude to have. There may be people who are absolutely never going to help NHBB ever again such as Sean Phillips or Cody Voight, but that number seems to be growing larger each year and it's uncertain what, if anything, could be done to convince people who have a bad experience with NHBB to reconsider a few years down the line.
The ridiculous rate of expansion (and inability to hold together existing projects)
Again, this isn't a problem in the abstract, but when a huge amount of the work -- the writing, the editing, the scheduling, the staffing -- falls on the quizbowl community, and when the logistics of the existing pieces of the NHBB apparatus are noticeably suboptimal even before new components get added, there's much reason for frustration. And quite frankly, it's hard for many to believe that NHBB has any gratitude for the people who do the hard work to make it happen when that gratitude for past work is always coupled with the implicit order of "Now, back to work" -- on the even LARGER number of events and questions and teams in attendance next year. It's dispiriting in the extreme that the reaction to work done for NHBB is virtually always coupled with an invitation to do an even larger slice of work.
A sense that the dependency of NHBB on existing quizbowl community members has become largely "parasitic" rather than symbiotic
This complaint runs largely as follows: NHBB has gone about things assuming that the quizbowl community has infinite ability to do work, infinite patience for NHBB's goofups, and zero external commitments, a type of homo economicus-type ideal which fails badly when it hits reality. In reality, the community feels quite frayed when NHBB needs help (of either the normal or "emergency" variety), because we're all doing two or three things at the same time even without NHBB added on top. In general, this is inching in a better direction over time, as NHBB develops a larger internal staff and takes care of its own business without needing to ask for outside help on things such as tournament coordination, but I suspect this complaint won't go away in full until NHBB it develops its own staff to do everything internally, pretty much. (This includes a sustainable writing team -- see my suggestions to NHBB below.)
Growing rifts within schools and communities between QB and NHB
As I said above, while the success of quizbowl in a given area and the success of NHB in that area certainly seem to be positively correlated, there's no guarantee that improvements in the prospects of one matches one-to-one with improvements in the prospects of the other, and this can be a source of frustration. Certainly on the level of individual students, there are a rising number of stories of strife between History Bowl and Quizbowl teams/programs. This isn't something that any organization can handle at the national or even regional level, but it's more grist for the anti-NHBB mill to hear stories of a high school that's conflicted in this way.
Fears of a backslide in, or indifference to, question quality
There's some skepticism that NHBB actually cares about question quality. After all, it's only once you get to the very top of the field (the top 32 or so) that quality matters one whit at HS nationals -- the teams that know more would get that far even if the questions were utter crap, just by virtue of being more familiar with the game. Given that I was among the people who had to ensure question quality across every round at this past year's HS Nationals, and worked extensively with David Madden / NHBB to enforce real standards, I personally believe this skepticism is unfounded. But I understand where it comes from, given the pattern of expectations of massive numbers of questions on short time scales that NHBB demands.
All of these frustrations, and more I'm sure, are creating a larger and more calcifying group of people who never, ever want to help NHBB again. And it's very easy to give them a sour-grapes style response of "oh well, we didn't need you anyway" -- it's a lot harder to crawl back to those same people when you're desperate for help, and beg and plead for them to come back again the next time something somewhere in the NHBB apparatus is crashing and burning.
I'm going to put my personal opinion out there at this juncture. It doesn't reflect all of the frustrations I relayed above or the official view of any organization I might represent, only my own views based on the personal experiences I've had.
I like that the world has History Bowl in it. I would really have liked playing it when I was in high school, if it were there to play. I want NHBB to succeed. I think NHBB has been, and continues to be, a good force for getting buzzers into the hands of more kids nationwide, and that good/all-subject quizbowl can build on that momentum to find more people who enjoy buzzing in on questions that otherwise wouldn't be found. For all the same reasons as good all-subject questions, it's been humbling to watch high school competitors rise to the challenge and become more informed people as a result. I want NHBB and quizbowl to benefit each other. I think that a known friendly arrangement between the two activities is the best way to ensure that each benefits, rather than detracts from or harms, the other. (As a friend of mine recently quipped on this topic, "divorce only hurts the kids.")
Nonetheless, I acknowledge that dealing with NHBB as an outsider right now can often be at least mildly frustrating, and don't think that my appreciation for the concept or its successes thus far is in any way an endorsement of any individual mistake or goofup or overreach it has made thus far. My primary allegiance is of course to the quizbowl teams and organizations that I've belonged to and helped build up, whereas my contributions to NHBB have been more sporadic. And my hope is that as NHBB grows and solidifies, the underside to its incredible growth -- the hurt feelings and damage it's done to some people -- doesn't continue. Because I want quizbowl to be the best it can be, I also want History Bowl to be the best it can be, and put forward my own suggestions and criticisms firmly towards that end, without malice or spite.
I believe my actions corroborate the above. I had a chance this year to stand by and watch NHBB burn. I chose not to stand by, and instead worked 30-40 hours a week to save the high school championship weekend and put it on a more sustainable future path.
At NHBB's outset, David Madden and co. were simply not capable of putting together a competition that could succeed by its own efforts without our community nurturing his and providing our qualified support as far as we could. At this juncture, the foundations are there, and there is no choice but to expect that NHBB will do much more for itself from here on out. At minimum, it has to be okay from here on out for quizbowl people to decide whether or not they want anything to do with NHBB without the expectation that they're failing quizbowl in some way by standing by. To use yet another overwrought metaphor: NHBB started out as an infant, which we helped to nurse rather than leave it to die in a crib or become a dangerous feral child. But now, it's starting to reach maturity and needs to find its own path, of course knowing that it'll still have the support of many of us in its self-sustaining phase of life.
As I've written elsewhere, there's way more involved people now than there were 5 years ago, and I suspect that number will keep expanding as the number of involved players of quizbowl and History Bowl continue to expand. I am very much not worried about NHBB's ability to find people who would be interested in helping it from here on out. After all, one of the more interesting and heartening differences I've seen between NHBB and quizbowl, at least in terms of who staffs its high school nationals weekend, is that NHBB is ever-zealous in finding any people who might be interested in helping out and roping them in by giving them something to do. (In fact, I staffed the Geo Olympiad and the National History Bee with a guy who just happened to hear about NHBB one day while working at a magazine [I think Reader's Digest? I'm not sure] and has been back many years in a row, getting more responsibilities each time. The quizbowl community is much more reluctant to bring in people who haven't proven themselves worthy by rising up our own ranks and demonstrating competence in pre-set ways.)
I suspect that the overlap in personnel between quizbowl and History Bowl at the level of players and coaches will always be substantial, at least at the level of "key member of the NHBB team also plays quizbowl" and often at the level of "same coach for both". Barring any other major catastrophes, therefore, NHBB will always have at least some allies within the quizbowl community who are willing to pitch in as writers, staffers, site captains, logistics people, local directors/coordinators, or what have you. And as time goes on, the pressure on disinterested people to do stuff for NHBB will fade because it won't be necessary to apply such pressure.
Words of advice
I have some more words of advice for those on both sides of this interface.
- Respect that most people in the quizbowl community are doing double, triple, or higher-order n-tuple duty for multiple teams and organizations already. The existing quizbowl community has its own to deal with, and the basic laws of supply and demand don't really guarantee that there will always be people to produce what it might be good for us to produce. Quizbowl products require skilled labor from a very finite supply of people which cannot be overextended.
- One of the things I'm happiest about w/r/t NHBB is that it's now committed to / locked into having quality questions (by more or less the same standards that we in good quizbowl established over the past decade or so). The middle-term goal for NHBB needs to be to grow its own pool of writers/editors who are capable of producing questions that satisfy dedicated teams' quality standards without detracting from the ability of the most dedicated all-subject quizbowl writers to work on all-subject quizbowl tournaments. (This could include alumni of both games who are focused mainly on doing their writing for NHBB, but again as I said in the first thread in this series, that focus ought to be pretty tight.)
- The ONLY way NHBB will survive long-term is if it builds up its own team of people primarily focused on NHBB and little else. And the best reliable source of people I can see for building up that team is by approaching dedicated high school History Bowl players as they graduate. The saving grace of NHBB is that it's becoming an established part of the high school extracurricular fabric, and many alumni & strong players will want to give back once they graduate high school. Training those people to write, to edit, to coordinate regional sets, as is often more informally true of college quizbowlers who keep giving back to high school quizbowl -- that's the real solution to this whole knot of issues.
- If funds/arrangements permit, it'd be great if NHBB had a dedicated administrative assistant who NEVER travels outside the US and is able to read/answer emails incoming to NHBB regardless of whether the top-brass officers are on the road or on a plane.
- Lastly, I'd venture, perhaps optimistically, that the current crunch in personnel and NHBB is temporary. NHBB is still in its early childhood, and a consistent vision of good high school quizbowl is still in its adolescence. We are quite crunched now because we're still doing things in 2015 under assumptions that a 2010-size personnel crunch will hold forever. But it won't -- by five years from now, if not two or three, we'll have much less of a problem than we do now and things will likely get better by mere virtue of the demographics of outreach/expansion. Make the best of the growth of the activity to raise up not just the next generation of players, but also the next generation of organizers.
To the Quizbowl Community:
- NHBB is not going to go anywhere, so it's a waste of energy to harbor hopes that it go down in flames. If you don't like NHBB and you don't want to participate in it, aid it, or abet it, that is (or by every right ought to be) completely fine. But wishing for its demise is both impractical and more than a bit cruel to the many players, coaches, schools, etc. who benefit from it.
- NHBB teams are not going to fall out of the sky into your tournament fields. They never were; if you want NHBB teams to come to your stuff, you have to pull them in, and do the hard work of explaining why a game about everything (rather than just history) is worth their time. NHBB is too busy to help with this in any consistent manner and doesn't have time anymore to do much more than it does to get teams to cross-pollinate. They're glad to clue teams into the forums and encourage them to play all-subject tournaments as a reinforcement of (or extension past) what they learn for NHBB, but little more. I suspect that much of the bitterness toward NHBB came from an unrealistic expectation that new NHBB teams would cross over without extra effort on our part. Well, now we know what we must do; let's do it.
- NHBB doesn't necessarily do things the way we do, and often doesn't comprehend or act on observations that seem obvious to us. But it does learn from its mistakes and adapt to pressure. Don't assume that they're total idiots who never learn anything -- there HAVE been big changes in how this event runs with time and there will be more as necessity dictates.
Like in any relationship, there are approximately a million things two entities can do to try to make things work better rather than go for a total hostile breakup.
Ultimately, I will not be the one who decides what the quizbowl-NHBB relationship looks like into the future. I suspect that my record speaks for itself in showing just how seriously I've given to the game of quizbowl, to NHBB, to the ideals of question quality, and to promoting that moment when a kid's eyes brighten with the realization that they do know what's being asked about, just before they press their finger down to make their first correct buzz. But I won't be around their intersection forever. In keeping with my suggestions that people pick their commitments and focus more narrowly on being a single pillar rather than holding up the entire roof, I expect that I will not be joining the writing or administrative team of NHBB during 2015-16. And I suspect I'll be involved more narrowly on the quizbowl community side too, though I'm still figuring that out.
I again suspect (given the tenor of conversations I've been having) that my opinion might not match up with the prevailing sentiment among boards-readers, or among the broader public. I especially welcome robust comment and disagreement. I think it's bad for all involved if nobody speaks up, as it's easy to assume in the absence of comment everybody feels fine & dandy or feels indifferent.